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A flash of light at the edge of her vision distracted her for a split second, but she managed to duck underneath the claws of the bear as it attacked. One of its heads just missed the top of her head as she dropped to the ground, letting the momentum of the creature carry it over and past her. Before it had even cleared her, she was on the move, dodging to the left to keep a large tree to her back for protection.
A roar of pain and anguish came from the bear she’d just dodged, and she spared a glance toward it… and nearly tripped again as the strangest sight she’d seen, even beyond the two headed bears, greeted her. “O… k… first bears, now a monkey, a turtle, a snake and an elf. Right.”
She stood straight and looked at the newest arrivals. “Go ahead and pinch me, wake me up from this dream. Whatever I ate, I’ll never touch again…”
K-Dawg removed his massive poleaxe from the corpse of the bear he’d just killed and glanced at Net. Beside him, TLH held his lantern and knife ready as the remaining bears continued to close on them.
Net nodded at K-Dawg’s glance. He turned to CJ and shouted, “Human, take this!” He reached into the folds of his cloak and tossed a small stick at her, which CJ caught automatically.
“What am I… supposed to… do with… this?” Astonished, CJ looked at her hands again. The stick had been no more than three inches long… she was certain of that. Now, however, she held a long staff that was made of some kind of lightweight metal, though it felt solid enough in her hands. “The hell?”
“Defend yourself!” Net motioned to the oncoming bears and started to chant in some strange language as light began to gather in his scaly hands.
“I’ve officially lost my mind.” Nevertheless, CJ turned and braced for the next bear just as another of the visitors appeared at her side.
Komiyan drew both of his swords and grimly faced down the bears. “Not something you’re used to either, human?”
CJ glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “You might say that.” Further words dropped off of her lips as the next bear charged into the attack. She dived to the left as Komiyan ducked to the right. The bear slammed into the tree and Komiyan quickly plunged both swords into the beast’s hide, which brought a savage cry of pain.
CJ didn’t have time to stop and help the dark elf, though, as another bear was right behind that one. She grimly held the staff before her as the bear stood to swipe at her with its massive claws. As the paw descended, she blocked upward with the staff and stepped to the side, moving into the blind spot of the beast’s right head. With a cry, she swung the end of the staff around, connecting with the head savagely. Blood erupted from the deep cut as the beast stepped backward, roaring in pain.
Astonished at the damage, CJ looked down at her staff and gaped. At the end she’d hit the bear with, a shimmering blade had appeared just before impacting the bear. Even now, it hummed with energy, the blade itself nearly transparent. She grinned. “Now THIS is more like it!”
K-Dawg screeched in fury as his polearm continued to wreak havoc among the bears. No bear could get close to the furious creature, and time and again his axe lopped off heads and legs indiscriminately. One of the creatures tried to get around behind it, but came within range of TLH’s knife.
TLH reached out and touched the skin of the beast as it moved past him. Immediately, the creature roared in pain and collapsed, writhing as pain lanced down every nerve ending in its body. After a moment, the creature released a final gasp of air and relaxed, finding peace finally in death.
Komiyan sprang over the corpse of one of the bears that K-Dawg had killed in order to get within range of another one coming around on CJ. The creature, wary now that six of his brethren had already been killed, kept its distance from Komiyan’s blades as it tried to find the best opening past his twin blades… but Komiyan didn’t wait for the bear to find it. He darted forward, feinting to the left to force the bear to defend as he moved to the right. His swords traced a line of death at the base of the creature’s necks, and he moved on past it as the bear collapsed behind him with a gurgle.
A lance of fire erupted from behind him, rushing past his head and impacting two more of the bears with explosive results. Bear pieces went flying, and Komiyan wiped his brow as he moved to face the next.
Within another few moments, it was over. CJ looked around, but a quick count of the corpses showed that all sixteen had died in short order. She sighed and slumped to the ground, exhausted. She looked up as the snake creature approached, and she grinned. “Can you let me out of the rabbit hole now, Alice?”
Net raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”
“Never mind.” CJ shook her head. “What in the hell’s going on here?”
* * *
CJ rubbed at her temple. "Let me see if I've got this straight." She began to pace, something she'd done a lot of during the past two hours. Her hands still clutched the iron staff, though it had somehow shrunk down to the size of a simple iron rod.
She motioned to Komiyan. "You're a dark elf, drow, whatever you called it. You come from a world where dragons and magic exists, and you're as clueless about what's going on as I am."
Komiyan smirked. "That's about the whole of it, yes."
CJ turned to K-Dawg. "And you're from an island somewhere. Everything and anything there has its own form, and its all living. The fact that you're a four foot monkey with armor doesn't bother anyone."
K-Dawg shook his head. "Should it? So far, the only one here really making a fuss is you, babe."
CJ ignored him as she turned to TLH. "And you... I don't know what the hell you even are... some kind of large turtle..."
TLH cleared his throat. "I'm a Tonberry, thank you very much."
"... yeah." She rubbed her temple again. "And you, Net, you say that you're not really from ANYWHERE, you've just always kinda been?"
Net nodded. "That is correct. I do not remember any sort of home dimension or existance... I just came to be in the space between dimensions as far as I know."
CJ sat down against a tree, her mind weary. "And these things that attacked me, they're some sort of footsoldier for some demonic thing that's trying to kill me in order to prevent some strange sort of prophesy from coming true... because if it comes true, he dies."
Net frowned. "There's more to it than that, but I guess if you want to pull it down to the bare essentials..."
"Just yes or no, dammit!" CJ snarled at the creature. Apparently Net had very little ability to sum things up into simple ideas, something that had been grating on her nerves for these past two hours.
Net blinked. "Then yes."
"And it's up to a group of people called Stalkers to stop him. And this is because there's some kind of connection between the people across dimensions. And I'm supposed to be one of these people."
As Net went to say something, she snarled, "Remember, just yes or no."
Net closed his mouth for a moment, then said, "Yes."
"Right." CJ shook her head. "When do I wake up, exactly?"
K-Dawg moved over until he was closer to CJ. "You're fully awake, babe. This ain't no dream, and those rotting corpses don't lie."
"What if I want it to be a dream?" CJ pulled her legs in close and dropped her head onto her knees. "I mean, I'm not fit for this sort of thing. It's not me."
"It has to be you." Net motioned around them. "The kithar wouldn't have attacked you otherwise. Sihodael has no interest of anyone that isn't gifted with the Stalker soul. If he's trying to kill you, you can rest assured that you have it."
Net was quiet for a moment. "And it doesn't matter whether you want to go or not. Now that he's found you, if you don't, you'll die. If we leave you here by yourself, he'll continue to hunt you until he's successful. And next time, he might not wait until you're in the woods by yourself. How many would have died if he'd attacked in one of these cities you call home?"
CJ didn't respond for a few minutes. "Then I don't really have a choice, do I?"
"For what?" CJ looked up at him. "Did you tell this demon thing to attack me?"
"Er.. no." Flustered, Net wrung his hands absently. "No, we just detected his presence here..."
"Then it's not your fault. Don't apologize for something you had no control over... it's not only annoying, but unnecessary." She stood up and resumed pacing. "Well, then... no time like the present. How soon until we can get this over with?"
Net looked over at K-Dawg. K-Dawg pulled a small crystal out of a pouch and studied it. The crystal was glowing faintly from within, pulsating with light.
Net smiled. "Within about ten minutes or so."
"Then let's get the hell out of here as soon as we can." CJ cracked her neck absently. "The sooner, the better... I have friends here, and I don't want them in any harm."
"We'll leave when we're able to. In the meantime, just relax." Net slithered over toward TLH as he talked. "I promise, you'll be safe where we're going."
"Right." CJ looked over at Komiyan, who shrugged and winked at her.
* * *
“Wow.” CJ finally managed to close her mouth long enough to get the word out. “That… is a lot of computers.”
“Is that what they’re called?” Komiyan glanced at CJ. “I was wondering, but figured things were hectic enough without answering inane questions.”
CJ nodded. “Yes, these are all computers, though of a type I’ve never seen before. This is amazing…”
Net smirked as he moved back over to his control chair. “You get used to it. Now, let’s see what we’ve missed while we were gone…” His scaled fingers began to fly over the keyboard as his attention focused onto it exclusively.
“But what…” CJ turned as a furry hand touched her arm. She glanced over at K-Dawg, who shook his head.
He grinned. “Once Net’s on the computer, ain’t nothing you’re gonna do to turn his attention away. Come on, I’ll show you where your quarters are.” K-Dawg handed his poleaxe to a waiting attendant as he moved away.
Komiyan followed with CJ and frowned. “If my quarters are that place with that big metal thing in it, I’ll sleep somewhere else, thank you.”
K-Dawg grinned. “That was the infirmary. You only get to sleep there if you’re not awake when you come in. Don’t worry, unless you’re dead, that thing can fix just about anything. Trust me… I’ve used it a few times myself.” He stopped at a large hallway with doors on both sides.
He motioned down the hallway. “You both can take any one of these. Just touch the door handle and wait. After a moment, your hand will feel warm and the door will open. It doesn’t matter which door you pick, either.” K-Dawg chuckled. “It will always go to just your room, even if you pick a different door each time.”
“Interesting.” Komiyan strode forward and did as instructed on the first door he came to, and after a moment he poked his head inside the door. He paled and quickly shut the door. “How…”
“How did your most personal and intimate things end up here?” At Komiyan’s affirmative nod, K-Dawg shrugged. “Haven’t the froggiest idea, it just always happens that way. Everything you’d ever want, it’s in there.” He grinned. “Wait until you try the cafeteria… any kind of food you can imagine, cooked exactly the way you want it. Meantime, I’ve got to go get this armor cleaned and make sure those idiots don’t take the edge off of my poleaxe. Get settled in, you know the way back to the command center… We should have some downtime before we need to go get the next person, so just relax.” He waved to CJ and Komiyan as he turned and moved back off down the hallway.
CJ moved over to the door Komiyan had opened and glanced at him. “Let me see that for a second.” When he moved out of the way, she placed her hand on the doorway as instructed and waited. After a moment, her hand tingled and the door clicked open. She glanced inside and gasped. “Holy crap, it’s my room from back home!” She shut the door and looked at the dark elf.
Komiyan grinned. “You know, I think I could like it here.” He moved over to another doorway and nodded at the human. “I’m going to get a few hours of sleep. Then I want to find this cafeteria thing the monkey mentioned.”
CJ nodded and entered her own room, the whole surreality of the whole thing not lost on her. She moved over to her bed, still unmade from the morning’s sleep, and flopped down against it. The only difference that she could see from this room and the one she’d left earlier today was that the windows opened only to bare walls instead of the outside world.
She shook her head. “This… is just too fricking weird.”
* * *
The voice was low, whispered though none but the two were about. “Do we have a deal?”
The second voice was jarring, sounding like someone was scraping metal along glass. “Yes… I do believe we do. How soon?”
“When we attack, they usually arrive within a half hour. How much of an initial start do you want before we attack?”
“Give me sixty minutes. That’ll be all I need.”
* * *
The large monkey hadn’t been kidding. The cafeteria was absolutely enormous, larger than most football stadiums that CJ had ever been in. Rows after rows of computer screens lined the organized tables, and their instructions were fairly easy to follow once she got used to speaking to the computer like it could understand her…
However, instructing Komiyan on their use turned out to be quite a test of her instructional abilities. The drow had never experienced anything like this before, and the moment that his food came shooting up through a hole in the table, he reacted instinctively and swatted the plate away, sending meat and vegetables flying across the room.
CJ did finally convince the dark elf to try again, and this time she ordered for him. After a few minutes of poking and prodding at the meat with the silverware on the table, Komiyan gave up and used his fingers to satisfactory results.
CJ smirked. “As weird as this is for me, I think it must be stranger even for you. There’s no technology on your, uh, dimension?”
Komiyan wiped his mouth with his arm before he spoke. “If by technology, you mean all the metal and glass; no, not in this form anyway. We have strong magics to do what we need it to do; using a machine just seems wrong.”
A small light near CJ winked to life, and Net’s voice echoed through nearby speakers, his natural lisp sounding worse through the electronic communications. “CJ, Komiyan… if you could, come to the main area. We’ve detected two more intrusions that we’re going to have to contain.”
CJ stood up, ensuring that she took the silvery rod from beside her. “Come on, Komi… I guess that’s our signal to get to work.”
Komiyan nodded, snagging one last piece of the meat on his plate before he joined CJ. It was a quick walk to the command chamber, where K-Dawg and TLH were waiting. It took Komiyan a few moments to get his equipment on, but soon enough they were waiting for Net to get off of his computer.
Net turned and hopped off of his stool carefully. He contemplated for a moment before he spoke. “As I said, we’ve detected two intrusions… one of them has had an intrusion before, but we were unable to pinpoint its actual location.”
“You never did say why, Net.” TLH adjusted the knife at his belt absently. “You figure it out yet?”
“Yes.” Net frowned. “The intrusion was stopped by someone there before we could pinpoint it. The demon’s presence was ejected from the dimension without our assistance at all. Of the two locations that we’ve detected intrusions into, I think we should focus on this one first.”
“But…” CJ cleared her throat. “Doesn’t that mean that the other person is likely going to die?”
Net looked at her with a weary expression. “Most likely, yes. This leaves us two options. One, we go after only the known entity, and leave the other to likely die without our assistance. Two, we split up and take our chances fighting on two sides.” He crossed his arms and stared at them. “My vote is to go after the stronger one only. It’s too risky to split our forces at this stage.”
CJ frowned. “I don’t care, you’re not just going to leave someone to face this kind of crap when you know damn well you can help them. I vote for splitting up.”
K-Dawg thought for a moment. “Well, if the one repelled the attacks the first time, then it’ll likely be able to help assist on the second go… so I vote for splitting as well, try to kill two birds with one stone.”
TLH shrugged. “I don’t like the idea of leaving someone high and dry. What Dawg says makes sense; let’s go that route.”
Komiyan chuckled. “It doesn’t matter to me at all. Whatever you want me to kill, just say so. I could care less otherwise.”
Net sighed. “Very well then, we split up. K-Dawg, that is a very valid point on the strength of the one in the known intrusion; CJ and Dawg, you handle that one. Myself, TLH and Komiyan will investigate the other. Let’s move, people.”
* * *
"So that's how it works, then?" CJ looked at the small crystal in her hand. "I just think of where I want to go, and it'll take me there?"
K-Dawg shook his head. "Not quite. It's keyed to only go two places... wherever we're supposed to go, and back here. It only retains a small amount of power before it has to recharge, which is why sometimes we're stuck in the other dimension for a few hours."
"Like mine." At his nod, CJ gripped the crystal with a grimace. "Well, let's get this over with then. What do I do?"
K-Dawg shouldered his poleaxe and smirked. "Just think of going through the crystal; it's what I always do, and it works pretty darn well."
"Ok." CJ concentrated on the crystal, and felt a window open up in her mind. A light was coming from behind the window, and instinctively she turned her attention to it... and was blinded momentarily by a flash of light...
* * *
"Oh god." Cortland sprang over the corpse as more of the zombies continued to approach down the tight alleyway. He'd found a lead pipe that was working well to drop the slower-than-molasses creatures, but eventually they would overwhelm him... and the alleyway was a dead end, so there wasn't any other way out that direction.
"It wasn't a dream it wasn't a dream it wasn't a dream..." Cortland continued backing away until he felt the wall behind him. There was no other room to run... he braced himself as the zombies got closer... and closer...
And suddenly, a bright light nearly blinded him as it appeared nearly on top of him. Cortland shielded his eyes, but the light disappeared as quickly as it came, replaced by...
"What in the hell?!?" Cortland gaped at the newcomers, unabashedly staring at a gorgeous woman with a metal staff and an armored monkey with the biggest damn weapon he'd ever seen.
"CRAP!" K-Dawg ignored Cortland as the first zombie swiped at him. "CJ, we're too close! This alleyway's not good for my weapon!"
CJ smirked. "Then I'll clear it out. Come on, you," she said, glancing at Cortland. "Let's see what makes you so special." As the zombie that had swiped at K-Dawg turned toward her, the staff in her hand shortened and split in two, becoming a single nunchaku with a shining, translucent chain between the ends.
Her foot lashed out, connecting with the zombie just below his chin. The brittle skin and bones of the creature disintegrated with the force of the blow, and the body crumpled as the head went flying off into the crowd of zombies. With a cry, CJ swung the nunchaku into an offensive position and attacked into the crowd.
Cortland blinked once as the women suddenly went Bruce Lee on him, but he didn't stop to think of what was going on. Grim, he brandished his iron rod and followed after her, smacking any zombie that managed to get around the woman.
Once they had cleared the alleyway and were into the openness of the street, K-Dawg grinned and went to work. He purposefully moved away from CJ and Cortland, swinging his poleaxe savagely just above knee level. Dozens of zombies fell to his every swing as he simply chopped his way through their ranks.
CJ twisted around and connected with a high arch kick that connected with a zombie just above the chest, and her foot continued through the creature as it fell apart. She lost her balance for just a split second, but it was enough for another zombie to try to attack her from her blind side.
Cortland blocked the attack with his iron rod and slashed at the creature, a sudden savagery boiling in his veins. To his astonishment, the iron rod shimmered and disappeared, replaced by a silvery blade that was nearly weightless. Another blade appeared in his other hand, and a dark smile crossed his face.
"Now, we're getting somewhere." His swords flashed in the lights cast off by the street lamps, and zombies began to die even faster.
Finally, panting a little from the effort, Cortland looked around. "That looks like all of them, folks." He glanced at CJ and K-Dawg. "I appreciate the assist... now, does someone want to tell me what's going on?"
CJ smiled. "We'll tell you, but first we need to get the hell out of here." She held up the crystal, and a flash of light erupted behind her. She held out her hand to Cortland. "Come on, we'll explain it once we're out of danger."
Cortland looked from the woman to the monkey and back again before he shrugged. "Sure, what the hell. Beats programming anyday." He took her hand and stepped into the light with her, K-Dawg following close behind.
* * *
“Wow. I see what you mean… this place is massive.” Cortland stepped out of his room and into the hallway with a grin. “Amazing. Simply amazing.”
CJ nodded. “I’ve only been here for less than a day, so I can agree with you. It’s mind blowing. Come on, let’s go see if the others are back yet.”
“About that.” Cortland fell into step beside CJ. “Are the others humans, or some other animal like Dawg? I mean, a walking and talking monkey is a bit disconcerting.”
CJ smirked. “You have no idea. I will tell you this… the others that I’ve seen aren’t human at all. One is sorta close, but you’ll see.” She looked around as they entered the command chamber and frowned. “That’s odd…”
CJ pointed at the main computer center, where K-Dawg was furiously pounding away on the keyboard. “He doesn’t normally use Net’s computer. Come on…” She broke into a sprint, leaving Cortland standing behind her with a confused expression on his face. He ran after her after a moment, and they quickly were standing behind K-Dawg as he released stream after stream of swear words in long succession.
“Dawg!” CJ put her hands on his shoulders, which made K-Dawg tense up for a moment before he relaxed and slumped his head forward in resignation. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
K-Dawg turned in the seat so that he could face CJ and Cortland. His face was a mixture of frustration, anger, and resignation. “We’ve lost their signal.”
“What?” CJ paled.
“We can’t pinpoint on their signal. Their crystal is still active, but any attempts to pinpoint their dimension is being interrupted, almost like we’re being jammed.” K-Dawg motioned to the other people in the room, all of who were frantically working on their own individual computers. “The minute they arrived, the signal was lost.”